Are Federal Grants Right for My Nonprofit?
This past February, Betty took part in a panel discussing fundraising and federal grants through
The Association of Fundraising Professionals. AFP is a networking organization with chapters all over the world. It hosts networking events and other continuing education opportunities for professional fundraisers. The subject of the panel was federal grant funding and whether or not its right for your organization, and if it is a good fit, what makes a competitive application.
There are as many federal grants as there are nonprofits, and although federal grants often come with attractively large sums, they are notoriously tricky and it can be easy to bite off more than your organization can chew. Paramount to maintaining and developing an effective, sustainable nonprofit is consistent and realistic financial management. Federal institutions require that organizations demonstrate a proven track record not only of success in implementing programs, but also diverse and consistent funding and financial management.
So if your nonprofit is considering applying for federal funding, there are a few key questions you should ask to determine if you’re federal grant ready!
Does my organization have the capacity to manage a federal grant?
While your organization may not have to provide detailed reports for private foundation grants, federal funders will require detailed reports on how funding is spent, as well as how effective programs using that funding prove to be. It’s imperative to consider whether your organization realistically has the capacity to oversee and complete such reporting requirements, as they can often be time consuming and require the utmost attention to detail.
Also to consider regarding capacity, is whether your organization is truly equipped to manage the often large sums of money that federal grants provide.
While big numbers can seem like a great resource for your organization, if those grants are too large for your organization to realistically manage, it’s going to cause a lot more stress than relief.
Applying for a federal special program grant the size of your organization’s entire annual budget might advance your organization, but what’s more likely to happen is that it will add an exorbitant amount of stress through the sheer amount of management such a grant requires.
To get a better understanding of the requirements of managing federal funding click the link below.
Is this project time sensitive?
Another thing to consider when deciding to apply for a federal grant is the timeline of the project. If you’re in need of money to quickly pull a project together, federal grants are not the place to look. It can be months before organizations can get their hands on money awarded from grants, and federal grants are no exception.
Furthermore, federal grants are extremely detailed and require quite a bit of time to create a solid application. Be extremely mindful of deadlines and work towards completing the application with adequate time for review and revision. Applying to a federal grant on the cuff isn’t likely to bring any benefit, so plan ahead if you’re plan on applying.
So you’re confident federal funding is a good step for your organization?
You’ve evaluated your organization and you feel ready to tackle federal grants, so what next? How can you insure your application is competitive? Although a lot goes into insuring your application can compete, these steps are a good place to start to evaluate your proposal’s chance of receiving funding.
It sounds pretty obvious, but following the exact instructions listed on the RFP is crucial. If they ask you to send a picture of three monkeys holding your proposal upside down on a boat along with your application, do it!
In all seriousness though, applications with missing or incomplete parts, or improperly presented information are likely to be screened out before they’re even read by a review board. Following instructions for each part as requested in the information is the most important step to ensuring your proposal is competitive. Regardless of how good the content of the application is, if it’s not packaged how the grant maker requests, it’s unlikely to be considered to receive funding.
Federal grants often look to address large public issues and enable substantial improvements. The type of projects attractive to federal grant makers often require more than one organization’s participation. One way to improve your organization's likelihood of receiving federal funds is to demonstrate partnership with other organizations addressing the same issue. This type of cooperation is best demonstrated through concrete agreements like letters of commitment of memoranda of understanding.
Submit ON TIME!
It can’t be stressed enough - Federal grants are complex and time management is critical! Don’t leave anything to the last minute and always ensure enough to double and triple check the application before hitting the submit button. There’s no worse feeling than realizing you won’t meet the deadline despite having already put in so much work towards assembling your proposal. Save yourself and everyone on your team any unnecessary grief and work towards meeting interim deadlines and setting yourself up for the best chance at success.
Federal grants can be a great source of funding for organizations equipped to deal with managing large grants. Before going through the effort of applying, insure that your organization could handle funds if awarded, both fiscally as well as in regards to reporting. If you do decide your organization is ready and capable of managing funds, make sure to complete the application exactly as requested and on time for the best chance of receiving funding. Although they’re complex and time consuming to apply for, federal grants can enable a lot of change in communities and can be an invaluable resource for nonprofits.
Written by Margaret Peth